Tuesday, December 30, 2008

CaBBrera signs with the Nationals

So I’m a little behind in writing about Daniel Cabrera being non-tendered and signing with the Nationals.

The O’s haven’t exactly given me much of a reason to follow their moves this offseason, so sue me.

Anyway, yeah... Daniel CaBBrera signed with the Nationals.

The era ends.

Maybe now the Orioles won’t lead the MLB in walks.

I guess he won’t be plunking opposing batters as much any more, knowing he could get plunked himself when he steps into the batter’s box.

Even if Cabrera finds his “potential” in D.C., he was done as an Oriole. He constantly regressed over his career and he’s likely to be even worse in the NL, where his short temper and attention span will have to grapple with hitting. Or trying to hit.

So far he’s 0-14 in his career with 14 strikeouts and a sacrifice bunt (doesn’t count as an at-bat). But, he’s currently struck out 8 times in his last 8 at-bats, so only 5 more to go to break the record of 12 consecutive K’s by a hitter, which was set by Dean Chance in 1965.

Hey, that right there is enough reason to watch the Nationals more than the Orioles this year.

But don’t worry O’s fans. The O’s promptly filled Daniel Cabrera’s spot with Mark Hendrickson and his 5.07 career ERA.

Hendrickson may not walk as many batters, but the ERA will be about the same.

It’s all about consistency in Baltimore these days.

O's sign Hendricksuck... I mean Hendrickson

What is Andy MacPhail thinking?

That’s got to be the question on the dozen or so Orioles fans left in Maryland.

Yesterday the O’s agreed to terms with Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson is a 36-year old journeyman who has never really been any good at any point in his career. If he was a right-handed pitcher who wasn’t eight-feet-tall he’d probably be working a cell-phone kiosk in a mall.

Hendrickson’s career ERA is 5.07. His ERA the last 2 seasons, in two of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the majors was 5.21 and 5.45. God only knows how his ERA will fare in Oriole Park, something akin to a band-box, in the AL East, where the #9 hitter is not swinging a toothpick.

MacPhail says he views Hendrickson as a long relief/spot starter type guy. Funny, I thought our entire pitching staff was filled with that kind of AAA-fodder in 2008. Now we’re going to pay more than the minimum for a guy like this?

Was Lance Cormier and his 4.02 ERA not good enough for you in blow-outs?

OK, I’ll be fair. As a reliever, Hendrickson’s ERA is not terrible. Over his career, it’s actually a respectable 3.39 in 103.2 IP. But last time I checked, we’re still paying Jamie Walker to suck, so unless we’re going to release him during Spring Training, I don’t know how we’re going to explain 2 worthless LHP in the bullpen.

My opinion? We’re being told Hendrickson is viewed as a spot starter, but in reality, he’s likely our #2 or #3. It’s the typical O’s move. “Hey, Hendrickson was good against us when he was with the Rays. He’s got to be good right? Throw him in the rotation! What the hell!”

Look up lazy move in the dictionary and pictures of Mark Hendrickson and Andy MacPhail will be staring back at you. There are any number of minor league free agents who could out-pitch Mark Hendrickson and it should be Andy MacPhail’s job to find that guy and sign him instead of giving innings to Too-Tall Hendrickson.

Maybe I’m miffed because I just watched Severna Park-native Mark Teixeira sign with the fucking Yankees or maybe I’m pissed I’ve got to take down the Christmas tree in a few days. And not because I’ll miss it.

But foul mood or not, Mark Hendrickson does nothing to improve the Orioles now, or in the future. And it’s high-time we start finding guys who at least have some potential to do that.

I thought Andy MacPhail wasn’t going to make these kinds of moves. Guess not.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ravens Beat Jags, Year in Review & Playoff Outlook

The Ravens secured a playoff berth yesterday by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-7 to finish the 2008 season with a surprisingly solid 11-5 record.

The Ravens gave us fans a small scare after allowing the Jaguars to score an early touchdown, which put the Ravens down 7-3, but the defense re-grouped and didn’t allow the Jags to score again, and the offense dropped 24 unanswered points to close out the celebratory win.

Joe Flacco passed for 295 yards (a career high) and recorded no touchdowns or interceptions. His deep ball was a thing of beauty, but even more beautiful was the sight of Mark Clayton running down those passes to the tune of 128 yards and making some great catches to bail out his QB. Flacco, meanwhile, seems back on track just in time for the playoffs.

On the ground, Le’Ron McClain scampered for 70 yards and 2 TD while Willis McGahee got the rock just 4 times, but ran impressively on his 13-yard TD run. He finished with just 24 rushing yards, but caught 2 passes for 25 yards.

Defensively, the unit was excellent save for the early touchdown they allowed. Jags’ RB Maurice Jones-Drew ran well for 78 yards, and they allowed a total of 245, but they came up big with 4 turnovers, including 2 more interceptions by Ed Reed.

After the Ravens marched down the field following the Jacksonville touchdown to retake the lead 10-7, the game became more of a celebration of the Ravens’ season than anything else.

With a win in the bag, the attention turned to the Dolphins/Jets game which decided the outcome of the Ravens opponent in the first round next week. Had the Dolphins won, the Ravens would be travelling to Miami. Had the Dolphins lost, the Ravens would be going north to New England to take on the Patriots.

The Dolphins won, which means the Ravens take on the Dolphins in Miami this Sunday for the second time this season. It’s a good thing too, because while I do believe the Ravens could beat the Patriots in New England, I feel much more comfortable facing the Dolphins again.

After all, the Ravens trounced the Dolphins earlier in the season, 27-13, and the Ravens are likely to be the favorites again. Granted, the Dolphins are a sound football team and committed the fewest turnovers in the NFL this season, but the Ravens match-up extremely well with Miami. Chad Pennington is not the kind of QB that gives the Ravens secondary problems and while Miami’s running game is strong, it is also likely to be contained by the Ravens tough run-stopping defense.

For the Ravens to lose, they’ll have to play a sloppy game, full of turnovers and mental mistakes.

Yes, Miami is much better than they were when they played the Ravens earlier in the season, but so are the Ravens. Prediction: Pain. Actually, I see a repeat of the first game in my crystal ball. 28-17.

Looking back, this has to be one of the most satisfying seasons in Ravens history. I predicted them to win 3 games at the beginning of the season and even the most optimistic fan couldn’t see them winning more than 6, maybe 8 games.

We are happy to be proven wrong.

The Ravens’ unpredictable success was due in large part to the play of rookie QB Joe Flacco. Flacco was named the starting QB during the pre-season when Troy Smith went down with tonsillitis and Kyle Boller suffered a season-ending elbow injury. From the start, Flacco looked the part, standing tall in the pocket and having great accuracy. It took him some time to gain confidence and see the field clearly, but watching him yesterday he looked like he’d been in the league 5 seasons. He finishes the season with an 80.3 passer rating, 2,971 passing yards, 14 TD, 12 INT and 2 rush TD’s. However, after the infamous Colts game where he threw 3 INT, Flacco went on to have a magnificent 11-game stretch where he tossed 13 TD and 5 INT.

On defense, the usual suspects of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed had what could be called career seasons. Lewis will never top his prime from 1997-2001 seasons, but that is like climbing Mount Everest and then looking for a taller mountain to climb. Lewis responded to the critics who said his age was catching up to him (I myself was even believing it) and totaled 84 solo tackles, 3 sacks and 3 interceptions. More importantly, he still played the game with his patented intensity and leadership that fueled the rest of the defensive unit.

Ed Reed, who played most of 2008 with a severe neck injury that many said could end his career, equaled his career high in interceptions (9), and scored a career-best 3 defensive touchdowns as a game-changer in the secondary.

And they were all lead by rookie head coach John Harbaugh. Many critics said that Harbaugh was the only choice the Ravens had after Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett turned them down, and other potential candidates were hired elsewhere, but Harbaugh has made drastic changes in the Ravens organization in just one season. The Ravens are now a more disciplined unit than they were under Brian Billick, and perhaps the most important characteristic Harbaugh has going for him is his ability to let his staff do their job.

And that has allowed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron work his magic. No longer do the Ravens struggle to score more than 14 points a game. Cameron, in just his first season as Ravens OC, and working with a rookie QB mind you, has catapulted the Ravens offense from the depths of the NFL to 11th of 32 teams in points scored. He’s also demolished the “don’t lose” mentality that Billick lived and died by, by taking the training wheels off Flacco around the half-season mark.

The Ravens, or more specifically, Ozzie Newsome, also made a ton of smaller, but very important roster moves that contributed to their 11-5 season. They traded for CB Fabian Washington on draft day, who has filled in nicely for a deactivated Chris McAllister. They picked up OL Willie Anderson to shore up an inexperienced offensive line after the Bengals cut him. And they signed a veteran-savy Lorenzo Neal to block for Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee. They've also smartly worked Troy Smith into the offense, bringing with him an unpredictible and explosive potential.

So looking back, I really couldn’t have been more wrong about the Ravens and the prediction of 3 wins. The Ravens proved that they could rebuild on offense faster than expected while the defense still played dominant championship-caliber football. And it has all culminated at the right time, with the team playing their best football as they head into the playoffs.

What does that mean? I don’t exactly know. I think they can beat anyone, anywhere with the way they are playing now, but I still do worry about facing the likes of the Titans, Steelers and Colts on the road. And while I am completely confident that the Ravens can handle their business in Miami this Sunday, a costly mistake in a close game can make all the difference.

So I think the Ravens will go as far as they allow themselves to go. If they play mistake-free football, they can beat any team the NFL can throw at them. But, the game film to beat the Ravens is there. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 78 yards yesterday. The Giants trounced the Ravens by rushing for over 200 yards in a loss earlier this season. And the Colts put on their yearly clinic on how to make the Ravens defense look like a bad high school team.

But the most important thing to remember is that the Ravens were never expected to do anything. They had a rookie head coach, a rookie QB and a defense that people called over-the-hill. It was supposed to be the end of an era. And now they’re playing their best football as they head into the playoffs and they can hang with anyone.

Not bad for a team that essentially never had a bye week, huh?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Teixeira signs with.... who the hell do you think he signed with???

Highly coveted 1B Mark Teixeira signed with the New York Yankees today to the tune of 8 years, $180 million. For those counting at home, it's $22.5 million a year.

Teixeira had O's fans drooling since he filed for free agency because Teixeira is from Severna Park and played high school baseball a Daniel-Cabrera-wild-pitch from Camden Yards. But the O's never upped their initial offer of 7 years, $140 million, and the "hometown discount" that many fans were talking about never came into fruition.

In all seriousness, aside from the Baltimore ties, Teixeira didn't fit in with the Orioles' plan. Andy MacPhail has stressed over the last 2 years that he wants to add as many cheap, young and talented players as he can get, whether that be through the draft or via trades. Teixeira is great, but is only getting older and now, very, very expensive.

Yeah, Teixeira in Baltimore would have been a huge draw on paper, but until the Orioles start winning games in July through September, fans will never come out like they did in the 90's. It's a cold hard fact.

And $22.5 million a year for 8 years is a lot of money for just one player. But not for the Yankees. In case you haven't noticed they now have the top 4 highest paid players on their roster (A-Rod and Jeter, and this year's top 2 free agents in Teixeira and Sabbathia) and also signed highly-coveted free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett earlier this offseason. So if they didn't represent everything that is wrong with baseball before, they definitely do now.

If the Yankees and Red Sox (with an emphasis on the Yankees) are the only 2 teams that can afford high-priced players like Sabbathia and Teixeira, and are in the same division no less, then the system is broken.

The Teixeira signing doesn't exactly surprise me, and it shouldn't surprise anyone. All along Teixeira looked headed for the Red Sox until the Yankees came in with the highest offer and stole him away from Boston. It was simply bound to happen. But in my opinion, it represents what is the beginning of the end for a no-salary-cap Major League Baseball. So if it took a Maryland native like Teixeira to sport pinstripes for the next 8 years to fix the system, then so be it.

Because when the next labor agreement contract expires, mark my words, there will be another strike and it won't end until the players accept a salary cap, because quite simply, baseball cannot exist under these conditions.

And with the O's becoming more and more of a mid-market team, and not winning anytime soon, a baseball-less summer won't make a bit of difference to me. And not many other O's fans.

Now back to the O's. They must've been crossing their fingers hoping that Teixeira would take a lot less money to play for a losing organization a few miles from his childhood home. But in the end, it simply wasn't going to happen. And to be honest, they probably knew it would play out like it did. They covered their asses with a fair offer and have an excuse locked and loaded for the angry fans who have to watch as another star free agent dons pinstripes only to crush their O's 18 times a year.

But at the same time, a lot was riding on the Tex-in-Baltimore pipe dream. Because unless the Orioles somehow significantly improve the roster between now and February 1st, Brian Roberts is unlikely to extend, meaning he will be a free agent at the end of 2009, along with Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff and several other players.

And since the O's don't appear to be in the running for any other remaining big name free agents like Adam Dunn or Ben Sheets, the O's might as well jus trade Roberts for the best package of prospects available.

Maybe Teixeira would have fooled fans and the front office for a year or two, thinking that they were close to contention, but let's be real. The O's are going nowhere until at least 3 pitchers now in the minor leagues develop into reliable starters. And that is with or without a dozen Mark Teixeiras.

And other than Erik Bedard, when was the last time the O's developed one of those and didn't trade him before he became any good (John Maine)?

So BLOW IT UP!!! Get on with it! Tex is gone! There is no plan B. Hell, there never was a plan A! Let's get the ball rolling so we can have some winning baseball in Baltimore again while we're all still alive.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Big Win in Big D

The Ravens did the seemingly impossible last Saturday night, spoiling the Cowboy’s final game in Dallas Stadium, winning 33-24 and helping their playoff prospects immensely.

Dallas jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead after a Joe Flacco fumble gave the Cowboys the ball on their own 9-yard line. But then the defense stepped up, shutting out Dallas for the next two quarters.

During that span, the offense chipped their way back into the game with 3 consecutive Matt Stover field goals. Then with 2:51 left in the 3 quarter, Flacco found Derrick Mason, his favorite target, in the corner of the endzone for the Ravens first touchdown of the game, putting them ahead, 16-7.

Dallas and the Ravens traded field goals over the course of the next few drives, and after a Tony Romo to Terrell Owens touchdown brought them within two, at 19-17, it appeared the Ravens would be headed for another late loss.

With 3:32 left in the game, and on the first play of the drive, Willis McGahee busted off a 77-yard run to put the Ravens up 26-17 and driving what appeared to be the final nail in Dallas’ coffin.

But Dallas wasn’t quite dead just yet. They drove down the field at will on Rex Ryan’s soft prevent defense and scored a Jason Witten touchdown to pull within 2 points again at 26-24.

With 1:18 left, the Ravens just needed a first down to kill the clock and win the game. But just like the drive before, on the very first play, Le’Ron McClain huffed and puffed his way to an 82-yard TD, and this time, ending the game at 33-24. It was also the longest TD run by a visiting running-back in Dallas Stadium. Way to send it off, right?

The most comforting thing about this win, besides the huge help it gave the Ravens' playoff chances, was the return of a smart and effective Joe Flacco. After 2 disappointing games, Flacco finished with 149 yards and a TD and most importantly, 0 INT. His fumble was costly, but you can't blame him when the pocket collapses like the dam in Superman: The Movie. Flacco made the passes he needed to make against a pretty tough defense and was instrumental in winning the game.

And Derrick Mason was a warrior. Mason played through a separated shoulder, finishing with 66 yards and a TD. You really can't say enough about Derrick Mason, a veteran who plays with heart and has become a leader on offense. And when you look back and remember that Mason chose Baltimore over New England, you almost want to cry with happiness.

So here the Ravens are, at 10-5, headed into their final game against the 5-10 Jacksonville Jaguars. If the Ravens win, they’re in the playoffs and will travel to Miami, New York or new England in the first round. If they lose and New England loses to Buffalo, they are still in. Otherwise, if they lose, they’re out.

However, this game against Jacksonville is no gimmie. The Jags gave their all against Indianapolis and really should have won that game if not for a late David Garrard interception returned for a touchdown. Maurice Jones-Drew is a weapon, and while the Ravens are proficient at stopping the run, he presents a host of challenges since he can catch the ball out of the backfield.

But, all that said, the Ravens should beat the Jaguars. It’s all on the line and the Ravens are too well coached under John Harbaugh to look past the Jaguars to the playoffs.

And after coming off a disappointing loss to the Steelers and heading into Dallas, the writing was on the wall. It didn’t look good for the Ravens. But they saved their season. So failure against Jacksonville is not an option.

In closing, I am very worried about the Ravens guarding a small lead. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan plays too soft, and the results are disastrous. Up 9-6 in the 4th quarter against the Steelers, Ryan played the prevent defense and the result was a Steelers 92-yard drive for the win. And up 9 against Dallas, the Ravens played off the line of scrimmage and Dallas marched down the field, 70 yards, for the score. Thankfully for the Ravens sake, Dallas was down by 2 scores.

So, if the Ravens find themselves in that position again, protecting a small lead, I sincerely hope that Ryan doesn’t call off the dogs. He should have learned his lesson by now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Steel a Victory

It was a rough night to say the least. I had too much to drink before the game and can’t remember much of the first half.

However, I wish it was the second half I couldn’t remember, especially the Steelers’ 90-yard, game-winning drive with just seconds left on the clock.

When the Ravens were leading 9-3 and 9-6, I didn’t have faith that the Ravens would be able to hold the Steelers to just a few field goals the entire game. These are, after all, the same Steelers that found a way to score 17 points in seven minutes to beat the Cowboys last week after trailing 13-3. But the Ravens, especially their defense, laid down when it mattered most and essentially let the Steelers offense walk down the field to win the game.

Yes, the referees were horrible. They blew a first down spot and called a Santonio Holmes catch in the endzone a touchdown even though the ball never crossed the plane. They did this even after reviewing the play, too! But one bad call by the referees should not erase the Steelers’ drive of 90 yards, and the defense’s inability to stop them.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens dropped several passes and Cam Cameron went conservative when he should have been aggressive. The Ravens love to chuck the rock around the field, and use their nifty trick plays when they are playing the Browns, Bengals and other assorted bad teams, but clinging to a narrow lead against the Steelers, they became the same old “don’t lose the game” Ravens from the Billick-era again.

That said, when Joe Flacco was throwing the ball, he was inaccurate. He completed a pathetic 39 percent of his passes. He had a chance to win the game late, with just seconds on the clock, but forced a pass into triple coverage, which was picked off for a second time.

Is Joe hitting that fabled rookie wall? I don’t think so. I think he is hitting the “I’m starting to play better defenses” wall.

On the positive side of things, Le’Ron McClain managed to gain a respectable 86 yards against the #1 defense in the league, but that is about the only positive thing you can say about the offense today. The receivers dropped too many passes and the Ravens gained only 202 yards of offense the entire game.

In short, it was a typical Steelers win. They kept the game close and gave themselves a chance to win at the end of the game and were helped out by the referees. Oh and remember that tough four-game stretch that the Steelers had? You know the one Ravens fans were pointing to and saying the division was as good as theirs?

@ NE – W
@ BAL – W

Yes, they still have Tennessee in Tennessee, but the Titans were just beaten by the Texans and don’t look anything close to the 10-0 team they were just a few weeks ago. I think the Steelers will end that tough four-game stretch undefeated. Much respect. They won the AFC North for a reason.

Today’s Ravens loss also significantly hurt their chances to make the playoffs too. With the Ravens travelling to Dallas to take on the Cowboys next Saturday at 9-5, the Ravens are giving themselves a small margin of error to make the post-season. However, they still control their own destiny. If they win out, they’re in. If they lose to Dallas, they need help assuming they can beat the Jaguars at home in the last game of the season to end the year at 10-6.

So, can the Ravens regroup in Dallas after a tough loss at home to the Steelers? Can the Ravens win the last game in Dallas Stadium against a Cowboys team as hungry as them to make the playoffs?

It’ll be a tough order. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

O's make moves...

The Orioles finally made some moves this offseason that will impact the 2009 opening day roster. They traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Cincinnati Reds for utility-man Ryan Freel and 2 minor-league prospects.

They also have agreed to terms with short-stop Caesar Izturis and appear to be close to officially signing the defensive specialist.

Neither of these moves is going to create excitement in the fan-base, but they do somewhat improve the make-up of this team.

Trading Hernandez was addition by subtraction. His constant laziness behind the plate and inability to run out ground balls quickly turned fans against him despite his still decent offensive output.

By adding Freel, the Orioles get the competent utility guy they’ve been missing since they traded Chris Gomez. Freel is a career .272 hitter with a .733 OPS. He’s a vast improvement over former UTI-men Freddie Bynum, Brandon Fahey and Alex Cintron.

The 2 minor league prospects involved in the trade are 2B Justin Turner and 3B Brandon Waring. Turner will be 24 and has not played above AA-ball, meaning that he will likely be AAA fodder, but he has shown some power throughout his MiL career, with a .445 SLG.

Waring is the intriguing one, but at 23, he is a tad old to have not advance beyond single-A. However, Waring has a ton of power .523 career SLG. His downfall, however is the strikeout (156 K in 441 AB in 2008).

Both players somewhat deepen the offensive talent pool in the O’s minor league system. Look for Turner to start in Bowie and Waring to begin the year in Frederick.

The O’s also just announced the signing of short-stop Caesar Izturis. Some call the signing a lazy one, but with the O’s expected above-average offense in 2009, they can afford a no-stick SS with a great glove, and Izturis fits that bill. And at 2 years, $6 million, he comes cheap.

In addition to these moves, the Orioles were still very busy, and a reported 4-way deal involving the O’s, Padres, Cubs and Phillies was at one point close to being completed. The move would have sent LHP Garrett Olson to the Padres and brought back LH OF Felix Pie from the Cubs.

It is unknown whether it is still on track or fallen apart.

In any case, Felix Pie was the centerpiece of the oft-reported Brian Roberts trade last offseason, but that deal never was completed. So far, in limited MLB at-bats, Pie has yet to live up to his Adam Jones-like potential, but the O’s still believe he can become a starter in the OF.

That obviously means that the O’s soured on Olson in 2008, and it would be hard for them not to. Olson did pitch well in about half of his starts, but was shelled in the other half, finishing with a 6.65 ERA. One has to think that Olson will improve in ’09, simply because he can’t get any worse, but after compiling 165 IP in the majors over 2 seasons, Olson’s career 6.87 ERA is causing hopes to rapidly fade.

The potential Olson/Pie deal also likely squashes any hope that the O’s had in Nolan Reimold becoming a starter in 2009. Reimold had a great ’08 season for AA-Bowie, hitting 25 HR, knocking in 84 RBI and compiling a .868 OPS. But adding Pie to an already crowded OF with Scott, Jones and Markakis, means that Reimold will either be traded or become AAA fodder in ’09.

There were also rumors that the O’s would be getting back SP Jason Marquis in the Olson deal. Marquis is basically a salary dump for the Cubs, who have soured on his failure to live up to his excellent 2004 season when he won 15 games with a 3.71 ERA for the Cardinals. Since then Marquis has turned in ERA’s of 4.13, 6.02, 4.60 and 4.53. He does, however, eat innings, and rumors of the O’s thinking hard about signing Jon Garland support the O’s desire to have someone in the rotation who can give the bullpen a smaller workload despite the mediocre-at-best outcome.

Unfortunately there is still little movement on the Mark Teixeira or A.J. Burnett front, although the O’s have officially met with both players and their agents. And with the Washington Nationals reported to throw their hat into the ring for Teixeira, O’s fans are already starting to worry that Tex will be playing for the “other hometown team” in 2009. And let’s face it, being outbid by the Nationals, would be an embarrassment to O’s fans.

My take? Tex re-signs with the Angels or comes back to the east coast to sign with the Red Sox.

So there you have it. Things are starting to heat up as the winter GM meetings in Las Vegas continue. Stay tuned to the Bad Oriole for updates and takes on any solid rumors and official moves!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Black Beltway

It is often said that the best pitchers in baseball will find a way to beat you even when they don’t have their A-game. Well, if ever that could be said about a football team, it could be said about the Ravens last night as they beat the Washington Redskins, 24-10.

It’s true, the Ravens didn’t play all that great. Joe Flacco only threw for 134 yards, including a TD and an INT. Excluding the 8-minute drive in the 4th quarter when Le’Ron McClain pounded the ball down the Redskins throat, the Ravens had trouble running the ball. The wide-receivers dropped too many passes. And special teams kept committing penalties to back up the offense.

But, the defense played extremely well, holding the Redskins to only 254 yards of offense and forced the Skins into four turnovers. More importantly, they created 2 turnovers within the first five minutes of the game to give the Ravens an almost instant 14-0 lead.

And that made the game somewhat anticlimactic. The Redskins were visiting Baltimore for the first time in Ravens history, and Baltimore fans still hold a massive grudge toward the Redskins for former-owner Jack Kent Cooke trying to force his team on Baltimore. So fans were amped up to get their revenge. And there were a lot of Redskins fans in the crowd, but the fast 14-0 lead kept them silent.

But M&T was rocking last night despite the freezing cold temperature and wind. Take a look at this Redskins forum thread about how Skins fans are jealous of the Ravens home field advantage and calling for a new stadium even though FedEx Field is barely 10 years old. It’s good for a laugh.

Hopefully M&T will remain rocking when the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town next week. The Ravens will need the 12th man more than ever to beat the Steelers who despite not playing extremely well, keeps finding ways to win. They came back from a 13-3 deficit with seven minutes left to defeat the Cowboys last night, 20-13. They are still a game up on the Ravens for first place and have won the first two games of their difficult 4-game stretch. The last two: @ BAL, @ TEN.

But last night the Ravens dominated the Redskins in a game where they didn’t play that well. So imagine what it’ll be like when they are running on all cylinders. Hopefully they will be next week.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Why I don't really hate the Deadskins anymore...

With the Washignton Redskins coming to Baltimore this Sunday for the first time in Ravens history, I figured I’d share my thoughts on the Redskins, and quite to my surprise, why I don’t really hate them as much as I’m supposed to.

I’m the typical near-30 Baltimore guy. I love my city, rep its teams via clothes and license plate frames, and drink lots of Natty Boh.

I came of age in that 13-year gap between the Colts and the Ravens. I had friends in elementary and middle school who bled burgundy and gold. I had to sit through their trash talk during their two Super Bowl victories in 1987 and 1991.

I rooted for the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers as a kid. Not exactly the class of the NFL.

It would have been easy for me to root for the Redskins and I don’t think anyone would have really chided me for that. After all, Baltimore didn’t have a team, the Redskins were only 45 minutes away, and most importantly, they were good.

But I couldn’t do it.

In my house growing up, we weren’t D.C. patsies. We rooted for the Orioles and whoever played the Colts and Redskins. I didn’t really know the Bullets or Capitals existed until I was a teenager. We hated Jack Kent Cooke for trying his damndest to keep football out of Baltimore. And when the 1993 expansion failed to net Baltimore a team, and Paul Tagliabue told Baltimore to build a museum, we hated him too.

And if ever there was a time to break down and join the Redskins bandwagon, after the expansion meltdown would have been it.

But no. I stayed strong. I went to Baltimore Stallions games. I watched the then Baltimore CFL’s lose in the Grey Cup their inaugural year. In the NFL, I kept rooting for the Steelers. Anything to break down and become a Redskins fan.

Plus I thought, and still think, that the Redskins uniforms are some of the ugliest in the league. No way could I root for a team with ugly uniforms.

But then it happened. Art Modell announced he’d be moving his Browns to Baltimore. Finally, I was saved from ever having to become a Redskins fan. Thankfully, Modell left the Browns’ ugly uniforms in Cleveland.

During the Ravens’ first few years, when they had some pretty heinous uniforms themselves, my hatred of the Redskins remained. And as time passed, and as the Ravens got good, the Redskins got bad.

It’s hard to hate a team that stinks. Although I still do hate the Raiders and their fan base. But since 1992, the Redskins have pretty much stunk. And so does their stadium.

Meanwhile, Baltimore was growing as a city. No longer were we the bastard stepchild of D.C.

We got Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which to this day, is the nicest stadium I’ve ever been too. The Inner Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods underwent unprecedented renewal, and the Ravens Stadium is one of the best in the NFL. Then came the best piece of art ever to be created. The Wire. Made and shot in Baltimore by two Baltimore guys.

And while I still enjoy a daytrip to D.C., it’s a soulless city filled with transients. Its suburbs are crowded concrete dominated mini-cities unto themselves, and the 496 Beltway is a nightmare 23.5 hours of the day.

Years later, when Peter Angelos tried to keep D.C. from getting baseball, I couldn’t really be mad at ‘ol JKC anymore. They were both greedy businessmen looking out for themselves. I can’t defend Angelos’ actions any more than I can blast Cooke for his.

Then I moved out toward Frederick, which is pretty evenly split between Ravens and Redskins fans. When driving home from work in Columbia, MD, I was forced to listen to D.C. sports talk since WJFK AM became static after Mariottsville Road. And what I found on D.C. sports radio was some of the best entertainment I’ve ever experienced.

Have you ever listened to Redskins fans? You really should. It’s priceless. They anoint themselves Super Bowl Champions after winning a pre-season game and then say the Redskins are the worst team in the NFL after losing one regular season game.

If ever there was a knee-jerk reaction fan base, the Redskins fan base is it. They’re annoying like that house-fly that won’t go away. You know it’s harmless, but crushing it under a rolled up piece of newspaper feels euphoric.

Plus they dress up as fat women and wear pig snouts.

How can you hate them for that? We should be feeling sorry for them.

And you know how annoying the Baltimore Ravens marching band is? (Although I must admit, they have gotten better, and less annoying, over the years)

Well the Redskins are the only other NFL team to have a marching band. So we’re pretty much brothers. Heck, we’re practically Siamese twins.

So there you have it. Hating the Redskins is much like hating that homeless guy on the corner. But I guess the real reason I don’t hate the Redskins as much as I used to is because now I have something to occupy my time. And that is rooting hard for the Ravens.

That said, I hope the Ravens kick the Redskins’ fucking asses on national TV this Sunday night.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Invading Cincinnati

A few weeks ago, I checked StubHub.com for Ravens-at-Bengals ticket prices and was surprised to see $65 tickets on sale for $20. So I snatched up five tickets and this past weekend, Impressions from 540 and Friends invaded Cincinnati.

We came… we saw… we conquered.

Ravens 34, Bengals 3.

It almost wasn’t even fair.

Remember the days when a little rain would turn the Ravens’ offense into a high school team?

Not anymore.

Remember when the Ravens offense would struggle to score points against even the worst defenses?

Not anymore.

Remember when the Ravens were almost guaranteed to turn in a dud on the road, against a division rival?

You get the point.

540’s man-crush, Joe Flacco, tossed his now-to-be-expected 2 TD’s (another long one, this time for 70 yards), Mark Clayton (yes, you read that right) threw a 32-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason and Le’Ron McClain bashed his way to 86 yards in the lopsided victory.

The defense shut down the hapless Bengals offense, resulting in a long day for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (12-31, 120 yards). The Bengals managed only 155 yards of offense in the game.

Truth be told, I actually felt sorry for Bengals fans. Coming into the game, the Bengals were 1-9-1 and missing Carson Palmer like the deserts miss the rain. The stadium was only 3/5 full at kickoff, granted there was some rain, but by the end of the third quarter, the Bengals fans staged a mass exodus to find a drier, and happier place.

The ones who stuck around cheered loudly as the third-string QB, Jordan Palmer, entered the game. To add insult to injury, the first pass he threw was intercepted and returned for a TD.

It was the same old Bungles so I couldn’t exactly gloat too much in my first Ravens road trip. But, the Ravens hadn’t won in Cincinnati since 2004, so I’ll take it.

That said, it was an awesome experience. Once the game was over, I mean officially over since it was very much over before it began, my friends and I headed toward the Ravens tunnel to cheer them on as they left the field with the rest of the Ravens faithful who made the trip. To my surprise, Daniel Wilcox threw me his glove, which I caught and will lovingly wear to bed each night.

As a city, Cincinnati left a lot to be desired. I’m not sure if I missed some hotspots or not, but the downtown area seemed empty and generic. My friends and I did manage to find a nice sports bar (Sully's) and bar/nightclub (The Lodge) close to our hotel, but trips around the city and across the river for action turned up empty.

And the Skyline Chili was almost room temperature.

Paul Brown stadium is in one word – funky. I still haven’t figured out if that’s a good thing or not. It’s angles and lines are too modern and the stadium is too wide-open to hold noise. Also, you can’t walk around the entire stadium from the upper deck. Yes, my friends and I did walk all the way up to the wrong side of the upper deck. So that sucked. But it was pretty much the worst thing about the entire trip.

Moving forward, the Ravens take on the Washington Redskins (7-5) next Sunday night. The Redskins are fighting for a playoff spot that is starting to slip through their fingers and it doesn’t help that Clinton Portis left the game with an injury in their loss to the Giants and is questionable for this Sunday.

Despite their recent struggles, the Redskins are an overall solid team, but against the Ravens, they look to be practically dominated in every facet of the game, especially if Portis is forced to miss any time.

QB Jason Campbell is at his best when the Redskins running game is clicking, and hasn’t demonstrated the ability to take over games and win them by himself. When he is forced to win the game on his own, he becomes prone to turnovers. He looks to be in for a very long day against the Ravens’ second-ranked defense.

The Ravens still control their own destiny in the playoff hunt, but will have to walk a tight-rope to win a Wild Card spot with the Colts finding ways to win (even when they don’t score offensive touchdowns) and the Patriots and Dolphins breathing down their necks. The Ravens’ best bet is to steal the division from the Steelers, but that might be easier said than done after the Steelers crushed the Patriots in New England last weekend.

However, the Steelers next three games are still tough: Dallas, at Baltimore and then at Tennessee.

But let’s not look ahead too much. The Redskins come to Baltimore for the first time and it’s a prime-time game.

Remember when the Ravens laid an egg in prime-time games?

Let’s hope we can add that one to the list.